With just weeks left before the vote, residents gathered at the Thursday night for the first of two town halls with city and county officials about the implications of dissolving their city.
Taxes, services and the future of the tiny municipality’s roads and park were the main focus of the presentation by St. Louis County officials, headed by Comprehensive Planning Manager Lori Fiegel.
Fiegel laid out a tax comparison between St. George and unincorporated St. Louis County. Post-disincorporation, residents would not have to pay city property taxes, but their utilities taxes would go up from 2 percent to 5 percent and expand to cover more utilities. The final difference would vary depending on home value and utilities usage, but Fiegel estimated that an average family with a $100,000 home would pay $15 per year more as a part of unincorporated St. Louis County—less if they were a senior citizen.
But St. George’s low taxes may need to climb if the city wants to repair its decaying, broken streets, which the city said are decades past their planned life expectancy. Fiegel said the county estimates it would cost $1,265,650 to replace the city’s subdivision and condo streets—work that under the county would take place over a three to four years starting in 2013.
St. George Mayor Carmen Wilkerson also made a presentation on the city’s finances and how the city would go about paying for those comprehensive street repairs. With the city’s current revenue, she estimated that the city was short $1,080,650—or, she emphasized, $1,506 per household—if it were to fix the streets on its own.
The fate of the city’s small park and playground has also been a sticking question in the disincorporation discussion over the last several months. Fiegel said that the park was too small to be converted into a county park, but city treasurer Ron Cipolla said that the park could be maintained post-disincoporation if residents chipped in to form a subdivision trust, a community improvement district or some other non-profit entity. Such an effort could also potentially include houses on the streets north of Southview Lane, who are not a part of St. George but who use the park nonetheless.
Several condominium residents, however, questioned why they should pay for the park when they do not have easy access to it. Others said they did not know the city had a park at all.
The tone of the meeting was mostly calm and inquisitive—significantly less fiery than the first of these meetings, held in May.
“I think that people came to get information. I think it went very well,” Wilkerson said. Wilkerson, a proponent of disincorporation, added that she expected high turnout for November’s vote and that she was hopeful that the disincorporation would get the 60 percent vote needed to pass.
Meanwhile another group of citizens, sporting Save Our City buttons and lawn signs, says that disincorporation is unnecessary.
“It’s cheaper to live in St. George than in St. Louis County,” former mayor Mary Jo Fitzpatrick said, stressing that she lived off Social Security.
In a sheet they distributed at the meeting, the Save Our City Committee argued that St. George could afford to bring streets up to accepted standards. They also worry that residents would have less control over police attention—currently nine ten-minute patrols each day, per a contract with St. Louis County Police—if the neighborhood became a part of a regular beat.
With November 8 looming, St. George has begun receiving greater media attention, even at a national level. Bloomberg News wrote about the city’s situation, and Wilkerson said she was contacted this week by a reporter from the Washington Post.
Another town hall is planned for 10 a.m. on Oct. 15 at the .